Illan Meslier has been hailed by Marcelo Bielsa for the strength of character the young Leeds United goalkeeper has displayed in his first season in the Premier League.
Leeds play at West Ham on Monday evening hoping to end their nightmare run of form under Bielsa in the capital. United have won just one of their 24 visits to London under the Argentinian, having lost a staggering 17 times. That includes defeats at Crystal Palace, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham this season alone.
Leeds have also shipped more goals than every side bar bottom pair West Brom and Sheffield United. That has seen Meslier, 21 last week, face some heavy criticism.
But the Frenchman has also kept eight clean sheets – he broke Joe Hart’s 14-year-old top-flight record last month for a goalkeeper under the age of 21 – and Bielsa has been impressed.
“He’s a player with personality and character and he still has the margin to improve,” Leeds’ head coach said.
“But what he has shown in the season so far qualifies as a good season.
“Not only because he is young, even if he was 30 years old he would still be graded very well.”
Indeed, Meslier has come up with some big saves this season and has been mentioned as a target for Monday’s opponents.
Leeds have lost four of their last six league games, and face a tough test against rejuvenated Chelsea on Saturday.
Bielsa likes what he sees in West Ham
Monday’s opponents West Ham have been one of the top flight’s surprise packages and their top-four challenge has been noted by Bielsa.
He explained why he thinks the Hammers have been so successful under David Moyes this season.
“A secret or something special I don’t observe,” said the Argentinian, who picked out Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek as two players key to their progress.
“They’ve been able to maintain a stable partnership in midfield. They are two players who are very important.”
Soucek was on target in West Ham’s 2-1 win at Elland Road in early December, while Moyes’ side have lost only to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the league since.
“For each of the attacking positions, they have two players,” Bielsa added. “Especially with the two wingers and offensive midfielder.
“The four full-backs they possess are important players. Apart from that, they have resolved the absence of (Arthur) Masuaku.
“Their two goalkeepers have shone and the centre-backs have they been sure at the back. They have also contributed goals in attack.
“They have a very good set-piece taker (Aaron Cresswell) with his left foot. The manager has been able to obtain some very good minutes of football with that team.”